Purpose

A blog that focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Medicine, Construction, and Travel

Although the Christian life often proceeds without a great deal of reflection regarding spiritual status, sometimes God focuses our thoughts on His personal work in us. Recently He has been doing that for me.

Over the years I have gone through times of serious spiritual struggle in which I have been desperate and needy. I have often considered these times of struggle by using comparisons.

For example, the spiritual struggle has seemed like a physical illness in which I was so weak and so far from health that it seemed I would need thousands of doses of medicine before I could reach a level of even reasonable health. At those times, I doubted I could ever be healthy again.

I have also compared the struggle to a construction project in which I couldn't make any progress in forming the building because I couldn't even get a foundation that wouldn't crumble and fall apart. It seemed that I would never be able to get even a simple building framed and under roof.

A third comparison is that of a lengthy journey which I could not undertake because I was stuck in quicksand. It seemed impossible to extricate myself from the bog, let alone conquer the rugged terrain that stretched beyond.

In these struggles I knew I needed God's help through the Bible, but my need seemed so immense and my attempts to find that help pitiful and insufficient. It seemed total disaster would come before I could ever take enough doses of medicine, add enough bricks, or take enough steps to get from my current state to a reasonable level of health, development, or progress.

In spite of those pessimistic evaluations, I can now see that God did in fact lift me from those helpless situations. In recent weeks I have realized anew that He has strengthened me. I am more grounded in the Word, more knowledgeable about the specific help I need for particular challenges, and more inclined to turn quickly to God for help. Beyond increased personal maturity, I am amazed at the multiple opportunities God has given me to minister His truth to others - opportunities that I would not have imagined possible.

This growth is certainly not because of me. "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (I Corinthians 15:10). "For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). I am not capable of making myself what I ought to be or of changing myself as I need to change. That is God's work.

It should not be surprising that God does the work. His intent is to transform me. "He who began a good work in you will perfect it" (Philippians 1:6). "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the LORD, are being transformed into the same image" (II Corinthians 3:18). "After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace . . . will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you" (I Peter 5:10).

Of course, I still struggle, sometimes intensely. However, by God's grace I am not so lost, helpless, and hopeless as I have been at times in the past. As I remember to look to Him, He gives me help from His Word and through His Spirit.

I am very aware that God's work is not finished. God continues to give me medicine, build His structure, and guide me on the journey. I see that my spiritual health has improved, my building is going up, and my path has covered many miles. I am thankful for this progress, but by no means would I consider myself a mighty athlete, a magnificent skyscraper, or a world traveler.

Though not achieved yet, those levels are possible as God continues to do the work that He desires in me. In fact, He wants me to be just like His own Son. "Until we all attain to . . . a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). "We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is" (I John 3:2).

I intend for this personal testimony to have two purposes. First, I want to express thanks to God and give Him glory for His gracious and incredible work in my heart. Second, I want to encourage anyone who is discouraged at his or her own spiritual condition. What God is doing for me, He has done for many other Christians, and He can do for you. If you see poor health, a disastrous building, or an impossible journey, and if your Christian growth seems helpless, take hope. Keep taking the medicine, keep adding bricks, and continue taking deliberate steps forward - no matter how slow or small the progress seems. Most often the change is gradual. You may not see the improvement this week, this month, or even this year, but God will do it. It may be a long time before you reach the level of the spiritual role models that you admire, but God can lead you to that level as you seek His help.

What are the doses of medicine, the construction materials, and the steps? They are not necessarily as simple as just reading a new verse or passage from the Bible each day. Rather they are steps forward in understanding and submitting to God's truth. Those instances of understanding work gradually. Every dose of medicine contributes to improved health. Every brick and board contributes to a more developed structure, and every step carries the traveler further down the path. Over time, the consistent accumulation of these will bring maturity.

"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us" (Ephesians 3:20).

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Habakkuk

The book of Habakkuk records a conversation between God and Habakkuk. In essence, Habakkuk questions his troubling context. God's somewhat unexpected answers result in Habakkuk's wonderful conclusion.

Habakkuk: "How long, O LORD, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, 'Violence!' yet You do not save" (1:2).

Habakkuk lists the troubles he sees: "iniquity," "wickedness," "destruction and violence," "strife and contention" (1:3). Because of all this, Habakkuk concludes, "Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted" (1:4).

God: "I am doing something in your days - you would not believe if you were told" (1:5).

God challenges Habakkuk, "Look . . . ! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder!" (1:5), because God's unbelievable work will amaze Habakkuk. God explains that He is raising up the Chaldeans, a people "fierce and impetuous" (1:6), "dreaded and feared" (1:7). In their arrogant wickedness, "their justice and authority originate with themselves" (1:7). They "come for violence" (1:9), "swooping down to devour" (1:8). Their one purpose is to conquer other nations. They "seize dwelling places which are not theirs" (1:6), "collect captives like sand" (1:9), "mock at kings" (1:10), "laugh at every fortress and heap up rubble" (1:10). Most shocking is that God is the One "raising up" this nation (1:6) and giving them power to "sweep through like the wind" (1:11).

Habakkuk: "Why do You look with favor on those who deal treacherously?" (1:13).

Habakkuk doesn't understand how God can do such a thing, knowing that God's "eyes are too pure to approve evil, and [He] can not look on wickedness with favor" (1:13). Habakkuk asks, therefore, "Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?" (1:13). Habakkuk compares the vulnerable nations to fish swimming aimlessly, with no leader to direct or protect them (1:14). He says the Chaldeans have a net in which they "drag them away" and "gather them together" (1:15) quite successfully. "Their catch is large" (1:16), and they "continually slay nations without sparing" (1:17). Of course, the Chaldeans attribute this to their own strength, and accordingly "offer sacrifice to their net" (1:16).

God: "The vision is yet for the appointed time; it hastens toward the goal and it will not fail" (2:3).

God clearly declares that what He has predicted will in fact happen. "It will certainly come, it will not delay" (2:3). God then gives several comparisons for the Chaldeans. They will be like a drunk man who is emboldened by wine to go out and conquer unrestrainedly (2:5). They will be like a creditor who makes exorbitant loans, becoming rich at others' expense (2:6,8). They will be like a builder who takes advantage of others to make his house great (2:9). They will be like a leader who uses violence to build a town for himself (2:12). They will be like a party host who makes his guests drunk so he can take advantage of them (2:15).  

For each illustration, however, God also declares judgment. Chaldea's victories will be only temporary; in time the oppressed will rise up. Those conquered by his drunken boldness will "take up a taunt-song against him, even mockery and insinuations" (2:6). Those crippled by his outrageous loans will "rise up suddenly," and the Chaldeans "will become plunder" for them (2:7). The very parts of the house built by the wicked "will cry out" against the builder (2:11). God declares woe on the wicked town builder (2:12), and the party host will become drunk himself and will be at the mercy of the guests (2:16).

Chaldea's error was being a "proud one" (2:4). Chaldea made its own strength its god (1:11), and God reveals the folly of this belief. "What profit is the idol when its maker has carved it . . . ? For its maker trusts in his own handiwork when he fashions speechless idols" (2:18). Chaldea was foolish to trust in itself, and there was no hope that its victories would endure. God was in control, and He would make His glory known (2:14). "The righteous [would] live by his faith" (2:4). God concludes His speech with the reassuring challenge, "The LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him" (2:20).

Habakkuk: "LORD, I have heard the report about You and I fear" (3:2).

Habakkuk fixes his eyes on God. He recognizes God as "the Holy One" (3:3). He considers God's "splendor" (3:3), His "praise" (3:3), His "radiance" (3:4), and His "power" (3:4). He recognizes God's eternal ability to control nations through pestilence, plague, or any other method (3:5-7). In verses 8-15, Habakkuk graphically recounts God's judgment, perhaps past judgments or perhaps foreseeing the future judgment of Chaldea. In short, the very earth and heavens obey and yield to the hand of God, as will men and nations; there is no stopping His chastisement.

Habakkuk sees that God "went forth for the salvation of [His] people" (3:13). Because Habakkuk's salvation remains in the future, however, he admits, "In my place I tremble. Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, for the people to arise who will invade us" (3:16). Nevertheless, because he has reminded himself of truth about God, Habakkuk concludes, "Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation" (3:17-18).

Habakkuk recognized that things might be really bad for a while; it might seem like the wicked are winning. God might even intentionally use wicked people to execute His plan, but their success will last only as long as it coincides with and accomplishes His purposes. Ultimately, God will bring His followers victory.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

II Chronicles: Conclusion

In relating the story of Judah, II Chronicles shares moments of glory, incredible victories, and times of spiritually sensitive revival. It also reveals moments of pain, momentous defeats, and times of rebellious abomination. Although God gave forgiveness, second chances, and extensions of mercy, the kings and the nation moved progressively toward rebellion and evil, ultimately bringing destruction through God's judgment.

Because of the grace and promises of God, however, the story amazingly continues past destruction. It seems impossible that this story could end on a positive note, but the verse describing judgment also hints at a future: "until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths" and "until seventy years were complete" (II Chronicles 36:21). God's judgment was not permanent; the final two verses of the book reveal that God's interaction with these rebellious people was not over.

God still wanted to bless them, and He again gave an opportunity. Cyrus, the foreign king over Judah's captivity, humbly recognized God's blessing on his reign and acknowledged his mission from God. God directed Cyrus to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, and Cyrus issued an open invitation to the captives of Judah, "Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up!" (36:23). Cyrus thus initiated the return of the Jews to their land.

This result should not be surprising. God had made promises to the patriarchs and to David. Having chosen this people for Himself, God had promised they would be a great multitude and would never be annihilated. He had promised David an unending royal line. As surely as God kept His promise to destroy Judah if they rebelled, He would keep His promise to restore them.

Solomon, the first king described in II Chronicles, prayed, "When they sin against You . . . and You are angry with them and deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive . . . if they . . . repent and make supplication to You in the land of their captivity . . . then hear from heaven . . . their prayer and supplications, and maintain their cause and forgive Your people" (6:36-39). God responded, "[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (7:14).

God also shared the negative consequences: "If you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will uproot you from My land" (7:19-20). This response is consistent with how God has historically dealt with His people. Throughout Scripture, God promised either blessing or judgment based on how His people responded toward Him, and He consistently followed through.

II Chronicles is not at all secretive about why God blessed or judged at specific times. Over and over again God overtly states His reasons for blessing (humility and obedience) or for judgment (rebellion and disobedience). The two outcomes are extremely different. God's blessing was rich - land prospering, military strengthened, amazing victories. God's judgment was harsh - losses in battle, captivity, serious illness, political upheaval. The sober message is this: When God's blessing is so great, why would someone not want to be clearly on His side? When God's judgment is so heavy, why would someone ever want to turn against God? When God is so ready to forgive, why would people not turn to Him and repent?

II Chronicles reveals God's grace. Understanding the weakness of sinful man, God declared kings to be good even when they were inconsistent. Some kings failed greatly, but rather than demanding perfection in order to give blessing, God looked for a heart inclined toward Him and generally seeking to please Him. God was quick to reverse His dealings when evil kings repented. Despite a lifetime opposing God, it took just an instance of humility to change everything. If men were willing to turn to God, He was waiting to embrace them.

The biggest challenge to good kings remaining faithful was pride. Several kings who were great followers of God and experienced His blessing failed in their later years. Perhaps they attributed their success to their own efforts, forgetting it came from the gracious hand of God. Their pride marked the end of blessing and produced blemishes on the records of otherwise godly men. When they forgot how much they needed God, they fell.

God's blessing did not mean the absence of problems. While life is peaceful at times, every life has problems. The godly kings faced serious military situations and serious health issues just like the ungodly kings did. The difference is that the godly kings had God's help, and they experienced His miraculous deliverance. In situations far outside their control, their faith in God allowed them to see His mighty power in control. God's blessing doesn't guarantee total bliss, but rather assures of God's help through the problems.

The Old Testament was written for admonition and encouragement; the principles of God's interactions, revealed repeatedly in Scripture, remain true today. God wants to bless obedience and promises to punish disobedience. Historically, many Christians and unbelievers have focused on the angry, judgmental side of God, even using II Chronicles as proof. These stories actually heighten and enhance the understanding of God as loving, gracious, merciful, kind, longsuffering, and gentle. If God were primarily angry and looking for a reason to send judgment, He has failed to take advantage of innumerable opportunities. Instead His love has made Him longsuffering and merciful, demonstrated as He repeatedly delays judgment, offers reconciliation, and seeks restoration.

"Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust." (Psalm 103:13-14 NASB)

Saturday, November 5, 2016

II Chronicles: Final Four Kings

Without doubt, the story of Judah's final kings is sad. After Josiah's inspirational searching, his three sons and one grandson showed no godly inclinations. Collectively their reigns lasted less than twenty-three years, brief years that marked Judah's final descent toward God's judgment.

 Joahaz (Jehoahaz), Josiah's son, ruled for only three months. The passage shares no actions or accomplishments. Perhaps he wasn't in power long enough to do anything significant, but the truth that God's promised judgment was hastening is clear. Beginning with Joahaz, every king was taken captive. The same king of Egypt who was involved in the battle that had killed Josiah now entered Jerusalem and removed Joahaz from the throne. Egypt's king imposed a fine on the land and transported Joahaz to Egypt.

 Eliakim, renamed Jehoiakim, was Josiah's next son to reign. "He did evil in the sight of the LORD" (II Chronicles 36:5 NASB). The specific manifestations of that evil are not revealed, but the intensity is. The man did "abominations," and charges were "found against him" (36:8). Again, no specific actions are recorded, but the abominations that God found against him were so great that God again brought judgment. Jehoiakim's refusal to follow God predictably resulted in his demise. This time Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was the executor of justice; he carried the king away as a chained prisoner and also appropriated "some of the articles of the house of the LORD" for use in his own worship (36:7).

 Jehoiachin (Jehoiakim's son and Josiah's grandson) became the next king. At the young age of eight, it is nearly inconceivable that this king "did evil in the sight of the LORD," but he was sufficiently evil in his brief reign of three months and ten days for God to make note of the evil (36:9). God judged Jehoiachin by again sending Nebuchadnezzar, who took the king captive and removed additional treasures from the temple. All people, even children, have the opportunity to do right and make their own choices. "Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right" (Proverbs 20:11 KJV). Jehoiachin's heart was already bent toward evil, and in light of God's rapidly approaching judgment on Judah, God did not delay in removing this young king who was doing nothing to deter that judgment.

 Zedekiah (Jehoiachin's uncle and a third son of Josiah) was ten when his father died. In the ensuing eleven-and-a-half years, he had watched as each of the three kings who preceded him was taken into captivity. His brothers and nephew had rebelled against God and had been harshly judged. No king had any stronger warning or greater motivation to do right.

 Nevertheless, as the time of God's judgment rushed toward its culmination, God gave abundantly more warning. Over and over again, God gave Zedekiah opportunities to turn to Him. He was the focus of much of the ministry of "Jeremiah the prophet who spoke for the LORD" (36:12). Additionally, "the LORD . . . sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place" (36:15).

 In spite of these multiple warnings, Zedekiah "did evil in the sight of the LORD" and "did not humble himself" (36:12). He "hardened his heart against turning to the LORD" (36:13). Zedekiah was not alone. "The priests and the people were very unfaithful following all the abominations of the nations; and they defiled the house of the LORD" (36:14). "They continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets" (36:16).

 Zedekiah was a proud man. In addition to his rebellion against God, he also rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, who by this point controlled the throne of Judah and "who had made [Zedekiah] swear allegiance by God" (36:13). Zedekiah determined to succeed where his brothers and nephew had failed, and he refused to yield to anyone. In asserting his own might and his own ability to control his life and nation, he rebelled against God's authority and rejected God's opportunities.

 Zedekiah was not necessarily more evil than previous kings, nor was God's judgment based on the king's response alone, but the wickedness and rejection of God during Zedekiah's reign reached the limit. After so many spurned chances and so many rejected warnings, "the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, until there was no remedy" (36:16). God's wrath had been stirred often in the past, yet He had always delayed the outpouring of that wrath through merciful responses to expressions of humility. This time God saw no humility, so He did what He had always said He would do - He brought decisive judgment on a nation that had rebelled against Him for far too long.

 The long-impending and oft-delayed judgment was severe. The Chaldean army arrived, killing indiscriminately of age, sex, or physical condition. God "gave them all into his hand. All the articles of the house of God . . . and the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king and of his officers, he brought them all to Babylon. Then they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all its fortified buildings with fire and destroyed all its valuable articles. Those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him" for seventy years (36:17-20, emphasis added). Zedekiah's end was worse than the end of any previous king, because it was the end of the kingdom. All was lost. God had said He would do it, and He did.

 The conquest's devastation is heart-wrenching, yet even this sad story reveals the merciful longsuffering and compassion of God. He remained willing to forgive if the people would only humble themselves, and He initiated multiple opportunities for them to do so. To both individuals and groups of people, His invitation still stands: "Come back to Me."